‏Go‪-‬to Herbs‪:‬ Basil‪,‬ Cilantro and Thyme

Mkucova/ iStock / Getty Images Plus
Mkucova/ iStock / Getty Images Plus

Ever get in a rut where you prepare the same dishes over and over? Same flavors, just a different day of the week? One way to boost the flavor and change things up a bit is to add different herbs to the recipe. Many of us pass up fresh herbs in the grocery store, not confident in our skills on how to use them. Well, fear no more.

‏Tasty options are easy when you have herbs planted outside your door or windowsill. ‏All you have to do is get out there and grow them! While they may be ordinary, these herbs become extraordinary when you grow and use them throughout the season.


The scent of basil is one of my garden favorites. Its sweet aroma lends itself to fresh tomato soup, or preparing a flavorful pesto sauce to slather on French bread for a turkey, arugula and pesto panini. And don’t forget vegetables — instead of just steaming broccoli or carrots, sauté them in olive oil and sprinkle fresh basil over the top near the end of cooking. Add fresh flavor to your favorite pasta dish filled with whole grain noodles, your favorite spring vegetables and a low-fat cream sauce by sprinkling fresh basil. Take a virtual vacation to Italy by adding fresh basil to margarita pizza.

Growing basil: It’s easy to grow‪.‬ Plant seeds under 1/4 inch of soil after all danger of frost has passed. Keep them moist and they should emerge in 5-7 days. Start harvesting as soon as you see hearty, deep green leaves, when the plants are just a few inches tall. Harvesting frequently encourages new growth (and many tasty recipes!).


Perfect for those dishes that just “need a little something.‪”‬ Turn taco Tuesday into fish taco Tuesday by sautéing tilapia or cod fillets with taco seasoning and adding shredded cabbage, a squeeze of lime juice, fresh cilantro and a dollop of nonfat plain Greek yogurt. Stir cilantro into your favorite chili recipe and guacamole. And don’t forget Asian-style foods‪:‬ Pad Thai and stir-fried or sautéed vegetables really benefit from cilantro’s fresh flavors.

Growing cilantro: It’s a cinch when you start early in the spring after all danger of frost. It actually prefers cooler weather. Cilantro does better when planted directly in a garden or pot — in well-drained soil at a 1/4-inch depth — so it doesn’t have to be transplanted. Seeds should sprout in 7-10 days‪,‬ and your first cilantro can be making a presence at your table in about three weeks. To encourage fuller plants, pinch back young cilantro an inch or so and be sure to snip off the main stem if flowers start to develop — otherwise it will become less productive as it directs all its energy into seed creation.


Flavors deepen and develop in savory dishes with the addition of thyme. Add an earthy, sweet flavor to beef stew or slow-cooked soup and freshness to roasted meats and vegetables.  Italian dishes and chicken casseroles also come alive with the addition of thyme. And during grilling season, thyme can be part of a marinade or a seasoning when grilling salmon, chicken breasts, beef sirloin or pork loin.

Growing thyme: You can start the seeds indoors and then transplant outside in the garden or container after danger of frost. The seeds are very small and take some time to germinate — 14-28 days — but be patient, this herb is worth the effort. Thyme requires little in maintenance — just well-drained soil, full sun and a spot that you wouldn’t mind having thyme be located in for 3-4 years ‪(‬thyme is a perennial‪)‬.

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Jen Haugen
Jen Haugen, RDN, LD, is a kitchen nutrition consultant based in Minnesota. She loves all things Midwest (hello, hotdish!), she gardens, and loves to bring joy into the kitchen with tools that make cooking fun! She blogs at www.jenhaugen.com. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.